For at least the last 10 years or so, the decisions and behaviors of a wide swath of white evangelicalism have been hard to grasp or understand, to say the very least. And I’m sure many read that sentence and thought… “the last 10 years!?…” Yes, I know for many it may be many, many more years than that. Putting that aside, they’ve left many onlookers perplexed and confused. For many, their decisions and behaviors were/are a mystery—they didn’t make a lot of sense—given their history (rap lyric?).
This has been most evident in the political realm. It has been revealed in other areas too, which can also most likely be traced back to the political as well. Part of the explanation is that when a group of people begin to see everything through a political prism, everything takes on a political hue (see my last post).
Still, that only explains it a bit. I think we have to dive deeper and talk about what sort of political view they are seeing everything through. Whereas once white evangelicals would have viewed most matters, including the political, through their peculiar theology and understanding of the Bible, they now more and more view their theology and Bible through a political prism. And this, of course, touches everything—all areas of life.
Rather than bringing American history, its political founding, concurrent documents, concepts like individual rights, liberties, law, property rights, gun rights, and a host of other areas under the scope of scripture and Christian theology, they seem to do the exact opposite. In other words, scripture and Christian theology are made to fit or align itself with their modern, Western, American political philosophy.
This can be done on both sides, whether the left or right. The problem is awareness. Many Christians on the left and right know they are often pushing a line of thought that may have no clear or obvious support as far as the Bible or Christian theology. Perhaps they think it implied or, at the least, not something contrary to the teachings of the Bible or Christian theology. The key, though, is they are aware of this tension.
Too many white evangelicals, it seems to me anyway, are completely unaware of this tension. They too often see their right-wing, hyper-patriotic, gun friendly, “don’t tread on me,” pro-capitalism, pro-small government, and fear of the “other” political views as somehow straight from the Bible and orthodox Christian theology (which is one of the greatest myths of our time).
Not only are their political views seen as “Biblical” and “Christian,” they are often their defining views, in the sense they draw their identity more from these views than they do from the fact they are baptized Christians who belong to an entirely different Kingdom and are citizens, ultimately, of heaven.
This has led me to conclude that many white evangelicals are in reality just religious neo-liberals, with the emphasis on the neo-liberal part. Rodney Clapp describes neo-liberalism thusly:
“Neoliberalism is a panoply of cultural and political-economic practices that sets marketized competition at the center of social life—even as the sole ruler of social life. It aims to create a society that does not merely include markets but is based on the market…” (Pg. 32)
When applied to religion, the state, the political, the social, and cultural, it turns everything into an amoral, supposedly neutral (not), and competitive playing field of “winners” and “losers” instead of a created space wherein there are ethical and moral frameworks that are bent toward, and protective of, the least of these. This market sensibility is baked into evangelicalism. Big churches, with many members, are just naturally viewed as “winners.” They would not use that term, they would say “blessed” or that God is working in that church, etc.
The obsession is with perception. Brand. The façade. The content is important…but, secondary. This allows those who are entirely without a moral core, but possessed of inherent powers of persuasion, authority, blind/unearned confidence, and some intelligence/charm, to become the leaders in every area of life. These are the “winners.”
While neo-liberalism and classical liberalism in general, place a premium on personal freedom/liberty, and democratic government it seems to be inherently authoritarian, over time. It creates the space for the “winner” to finally emerge from the “marketplace of ideas” and take charge. We can see the evangelical attraction to this phenomena in both how they perceive pastors, leaders, and political figures (everything really) in general. It is the very opposite, however, of the type of servant leadership displayed in the life of Christ or early Christian leaders.
We don’t need to add the qualifier “Christian” to this designation as it just wouldn’t be very, well, …accurate. Their add-on to neo-liberalism (which is amoral—the market decides what is moral) is a set of white, 1950s, middle-class American values, which they confuse with Christian morality or ethics. This sensibility could take the place of any “Christian” designation, which they would probably be fine with as they already assume (wrongly) they are the same thing.
It would be more accurate to just denote they are “religious” in general, in the sense of an ethereal weak deism of sorts, followed by market and country (which is where their Calvinism really comes into play). In reality, it’s more Market, Country, and god. The last member of this unholy trinity is to simply bless and give some sort of magical ethical or moral legitimacy to the first two, which encompasses their Nietzschean pure Will to Power. At the end of the day, it’s just a boring consumerist, religious, atheism. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, it’s also dangerous.
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